Most people have been in a situation where, in making a choice, something was given or merited attention over competing alternatives, and whether it is called favoritism or priorities, the object that someone devotes more time, energy, and resources to defines what they believe is most important. When one looks at a nation’s budget, and where they dedicate their resources, it would not take long to get a clear picture of where their priorities lay. As Washington debates how to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff, Republicans prioritized Americans’ retirement and healthcare accounts as the only areas to cut spending, and it rivals tax cuts for the wealthy as their primary area of concern. However, there is one area of government spending that has not come under fire from the Republicans honed in on spending cuts, and it should be the highest priority in any fiscal cliff negotiations to find an equitable deficit reduction deal.
Republicans are having difficulty coming up with legitimate areas to cut spending, because Social Security and Medicare, their favorite programs to defund, do not add to the nation’s deficit. In fact, conservative pundit David Frum wrote that Republicans are struggling to find areas to cut spending because with spending at its lowest level in decades, there are few areas worthy of attention that have not already been cut to the bone. What Frum failed to address is defense spending, and for many Republicans, the automatic cuts in the sequestration bill are one reason there is a sense of urgency to avoid the fiscal cliff even if Washington is not talking about them.
No one would purport that defense is a not a top-tier priority in America, but the culture of war, or readiness for war, coupled with the war on terror takes up a major share of the nation’s spending. Many Republicans are wont to refer to the intent of the Founding Fathers for a variety of reasons, but the founders were opposed to maintaining an army without a threat to homeland security. James Madison warned, “Of all the enemies to public liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded. War is the parent of armies, and from these proceed debts and taxes that are known instruments for subduing the force of the people. The inequality of fortunes and opportunities of fraud growing out of a state of war assure that no nation could reserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.” Thomas Jefferson concurred and said “There are instruments so dangerous to the rights of the nation, that leaders should be restrained from keeping such instruments on foot, but in well-defined cases. Such an instrument is a standing army.”
America is engaged in a war in Afghanistan, and no expense should be spared to protect and supply the brave soldiers fighting and dying to prosecute that unnecessary and unfunded conflict. However, it is an assault on the people’s intelligence for men like Speaker John Boehner to stand on the floor of the House and proclaim America is broke while hundreds-of-billions of dollars are squandered on over 1000 military bases around the globe. Boehner and his Republican cohort complain that Americans’ retirement and health savings accounts are an unsustainable expense bankrupting the nation, and yet sustaining the military industrial complex is an expense Republicans will not broach because corporations like Bechtel, Lockheed Martin, and KBR will hardly survive without taxpayer-funded entitlements.
Military spending is a necessary evil in a dangerous world, but the idea of building and staffing garrisons around the globe, or funding the industrial complex supplying the military during peacetime while the nation’s economy is struggling is the height of insanity. Republicans love their wars, but they love their corporate sponsors even more and cutting back on unnecessary defense spending is anathema to corporations contributing to Republican causes. A fraction of defense spending shifted to rebuilding America’s crumbling infrastructure would go a long way toward reducing the deficit as well as creating jobs and growing the economy. Military spending creates fewer jobs per million dollars spent than the same million invested in education, healthcare, or energy efficiency, and barely half as many as investing in building schools. Even worse, military spending clearly provides profits to the Lockheed Martins and KBRs of the military-industrial complex, and those investments do not, as economist James Heintz says, boost “long-run productivity of the rest of the private sector” the way infrastructure investments do.
In his 1961 farewell address, Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “America’s leadership and prestige depend, not merely upon our unmatched military strength, but on how we use our power in the interests of world peace and human betterment. The conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new, and yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes.” The unrestrained military spending and support from Republicans is endangering America’s economic health, and as the nation becomes poorer, the corporate military industrial complex gains unwarranted power with the assistance of Republicans who refuse to address defense cuts, especially military bases around the globe.
Eisenhower foresaw the situation America finds itself in now, and he recognized the potential damage to America and the people. He noted that “every base that is built signifies in the final sense a theft,” because for the cost of one modern base, 260,000 low-income children could receive health care for one year, or 65,000 could participate in Head Start for a year, or 65,000 veterans could receive VA care for a year. To make the point, a Marine Corps representative in Okinawa bragged in 2010 that the Marine presence contributed $1.9 billion annually to the local economy through base contracts, jobs, local purchases, and other spending, and it is an offense to the American people that investment is not in America, or that there are no plans to make those investments here at home. However, in seeking ways to reduce the deficit, Republicans can only cut social programs, cut taxes for the rich, and raid Social Security and Medicare; defense spending is off the table, and not even mentioned.
There is little doubt most Americans would support closing many military bases in foreign countries and using the money to create jobs, pay down the deficit, rebuild the infrastructure and strengthen Medicare and Social Security. Republicans claim we cannot afford social safety nets or investments in America, but can we afford over a thousand military bases around the world, or can America afford to continue subsidizing the military industrial complex with unrestrained spending on equipment the military says it does not need, or want? Republicans could prove they are serious about reducing the deficit, but that would mean making the people’s welfare a priority, and with a corporate defense industry to feed, foreign countries to invade, and social programs to destroy, punishing the people remains their highest priority.
(Ed Note: you can tell Congress to cut Pentagon waste here.)